Know Your Vulnerable Points
There are many areas in a facility that are off the beaten path of everyday management, so it’s important to take a detour occasionally to check these areas and ensure all is well. These include places like stairwells, blind corners and building recesses. Can your facility’s cameras be adjusted or can more be added to cover areas such as the dumpster or other vulnerable points of the property? Another idea is to add fencing, barbed wire or even thorny bushes if there are points that may be easily accessible to thieves or vandals. Stairwells should be clean and free from debris.
Operators should walk the exterior of the facility occasionally to look for signs of vandalism, graffiti, landscaping or building issues that may not be visible from within the property. Remove graffiti immediately. Consider calling the police to report graffiti incidents as it may indicate gang activity.
Do you have areas that are more slippery when it rains or ice up quickly when it is cold? Make sure you have the proper tools on hand to address those areas and post warnings to tenants. Use caution signage or tape to reduce accidents.
Keep trees trimmed, gutters clean and stay on the lookout for rodent or pest infestations. Contact a quality pest-control company to handle these issues quickly before they become a larger issue.
It Takes a Village
Set your expectations with tenants clearly at the rental. Let them know the basic rules of the facility and that you’re approachable at any time if they need anything or see something questionable. Let them know you want to know if something seems amiss. Request that they be an extra set of eyes and ears for you. When tenants know you’re striving to keep a safe and clean environment for everyone, they’re more inclined to help out. Let them know they’re part of the site community.
Operators should always be visible on site and talk to tenants and guests at every opportunity. Make it a point to be around when tenants are on site to say "hello" and ask if everything is OK with their unit. Whales do a maneuver called a “spy hop” where they pop their heads out of the water to survey their surroundings. Site managers should do the same thing. Peek in their unit to see what they’re storing. If you see something that shouldn’t be there, ask them to take it with them when they leave.
Things like paint cans, propane tanks, oxygen tanks and fireworks can be hazardous. Explain this is for the safety of everyone because you never know what’s in the unit on either side of theirs. Be friendly but firm and avoid a scolding tone. You want them on your side.
Facilities should also have effective signage, but don’t clutter the place. Instead, place the appropriate signage where needed and leave it at that. Try to eliminate negative statements whenever possible. A sign stating, “This is a smoke-free facility” makes the point just as well as “No smoking” but in a friendlier tone.
If you see something suspicious, question it. Be on the lookout for people who access the gate at odd hours or stay for a long time without visible storage activity. They might be living in the unit. If someone is in his unit with the door rolled down, let him know he must keep the door open while inside. A closed door is a potential fire hazard and the tenant may get locked in the unit by accident. Let people know you’re looking out for their safety.
If you suspect something illegal or potentially dangerous, make sure you don’t approach the situation alone. Talk to your supervisor to get a fresh perspective and advice on how to handle it. Never put yourself in harm’s way.
Tenants will emulate your behavior. If you smoke on the property, your tenants will, too, and you’ll be cleaning up cigarette butts constantly. If tenants see you picking up trash, pulling weeds and cleaning up, they’ll be less inclined to leave their empty fast-food wrappers lying about. Clean up messes quickly.
Tenants will respect that you take pride in your facility. These are only a few ways to keep yourself, your tenants and your facility safe. Every facility has unique circumstances that come into play when eliminating hazards. Take some time to evaluate your facility to determine what you can do today to maintain a hazard-free zone for all.
Linnea Appleby is the owner of Lime Tree Management, a self-storage management and consulting firm in Sarasota, Fla. She has been in the storage industry since 1998, and is a frequent contributor and speaker to Inside Self-Storage magazine and expo. She can be reached at 941.350.7859; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.